Every nine minutes an emergency room must deal with it.1 More than 5,000 times a day, a child misses school because of it.2 And for over a third of Canadians, quality of life is disrupted by it.3 Regular dental appointments are critical in preventing dental problems and keeping mouths healthy. But when public dental programs are underfunded – as they have been in Ontario for more than a decade – the impact comes back to bite all of us.
We see it when people with tooth pain go to the emergency room and only get painkillers or antibiotics for their suffering. This often doesn’t treat the underlying cause of the problem so many patients return with the same pain. Each visit costs taxpayers at least $513, which works out to about $31 million every year.4 Money that could be put to better use in funding existing public dental programs.
Properly funding these programs would let them do what they’re supposed to – provide regular, preventive dental care to those who can’t afford it. Unfortunately, that investment hasn’t been there for some time, and many people who rely on these programs suffer needlessly from untreated dental problems. Dentists in Ontario are doing what they can to treat patients in need, but public dental programs need better funding now.
Take Healthy Smiles Ontario for example, a program that provides dental services to children and youth 17 years old and under from low-income homes. Today, it has only 254,000 kids enrolled out of an estimated 530,000 that are eligible for it. That’s 276,000 children across the province who need dental care but aren’t getting it. That leads to vulnerable kids missing classes or being away from school because of dental sick days. The province has three other major dental programs – for people on low incomes, people with disabilities and people with complex medical conditions – which are also underfunded.
Healthy Smiles isn’t alone either, Ontario has three other major programs for families, people with disabilities, and people with complex medical conditions, and none of them are funded properly.See a list of current public dental programs.
Even the new Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program falls short of what it is meant to do. The way it’s currently set up, low-income seniors may be forced to travel, sometimes long distances, to government facilities to get care. Not only is this an expensive and inconvenient burden, it also means they must leave their local dentist to get treatment from a team that doesn’t know their dental and medical history.
Continuing to ignore the dental needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities will cost us more in the long term. We need to act now. Public dental programs that are properly funded and well-designed ensures people can get the care they need on a regular basis with a dentist of their choice. This prevents health problems, boosts self-esteem, increase social and employment opportunities and reduces financial strain on the health-care system. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
The first step is a $50 million investment into the Healthy Smiles Ontario program. Dentists have the knowledge, ideas, and passion to work with the government to find a solution. Let’s make it happen now!
Healthy Smiles Ontario provides free preventive, routine, and emergency dental services for children and youth 17 years old and under from low-income households. Visit the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services website for more details.
Ontario Works (OW) helps people who are in financial need. Adults between the ages 18-64 covered under OW may be eligible for dental care, depending on where you live in the province. Visit the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services website for more details.
Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) provides financial assistance and benefits to people with disabilities and their spouses. People under the ODSP have coverage for basic dental services. Visit the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services website for more details.
Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers dental surgeries performed in hospitals because they are complex and/or patients have other medical conditions that need monitoring during the procedure.
Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP) provides free, routine dental services for low-income seniors who are 65 years of age or older. Visit the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website for more details.